Spotty Board Attendance Costs Nonprofit Dearly – What About Your Board?

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April 18, 2012; Source: Amarillo Globe-News

Didn’t Woody Allen once say, “80 percent of success is showing up?” He might have been a useful management consultant for the board of Amarillo, Texas-based Panhandle Community Services (PCS), whose spending problems—such as $400,000 that it can’t account for and another $516,000 that it spent after an allocation deadline—have raised questions about the executive director and the board. Specifically, on a governance level, according to a review of the organization conducted by the Iowa-based consulting firm Meliora Partners, board members weren’t all that present. In fact the average attendance of the 14 board members in 2011 was 72% with only three board members attending each and every meeting.

Listen, we have seen much worse and, quite simply, it is dereliction of duty.

And for those of you cringing because your board attendance is not that much better and maybe even a little worse, take this as an “aha!” moment. This kind of situation leaves the executive with little guidance and protection as in checks and balances. And for those of you whose attendance is just fine on a physical level but the seats are filled with uncritical bodies – take heed. You are in just as serious a position.

It is very difficult for board members to keep up with the management and financial challenges of a $29 million operation if they aren’t regularly there to ask questions of the executive director and her staff; it’s worth noting that the executive director, Phyllis Cook, declined to talk to the Globe-News for this article. If the board members had maintained better attendance records, they might have asked questions about the misplaced $400,000, the alleged misspending of the $516,000 in funds from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, and about problems that seem to have involved oversight of the executive director.

Did Woody Allen ever reveal what the components of the other 20 percent of success? For executive directors, a board that shows up and does its work is vital. A board that doesn’t show, or one whose members are somnolent, leads to trouble like the mess PCS seems to have fallen into. Hopefully, PCS will right itself and continue to provide important housing, weatherization, and utility services to the low income population of Amarillo.

And hopefully you will pause to take stock of your board – are they showing up in body and spirit? For those of you who have recently managed to turn a less than beautifully functioning board around, how did you do it?—Rick Cohen and Ruth McCambridge

  • Caroline Oliver

    And, hopefully, your board will not merely rely on individuals asking questions at particular meetings. Hopefully, your board will have a rigorous approach to ensuring a) that its collective criteria for the proper operation of your organisation are clear and b) that it is collectively and regularly interrogating organisational data that pertains to those criteria.